((A.N. Okay, so uhm it's been a really long time. But lately I've gotten a lot of amazing feedback on this story from people who say that despite the fact that it's been, like, a year, they still want me to continue the story. I'm really, really grateful to everyone who's read this and is still reading, because I am, um, horrible, about updating it. I've currently started work on it again and I plan to finish it by the end of September. Enjoy!))
PART IV: EVERYTHING I AM
If it makes you less sad, I will die by your hand
Hope you find out what you are, already know what I am...
And if it makes you less sad, we'll start talking again
You can tell me how vile I already know that I am...
If it makes you less, I'll take your pictures all down
Every picture you paint, I will paint myself out
Glad that you can forgive, only hoping as time goes
you can forget.
Chapter 36: Saving Someday
Hermione woke up in the bed of her cell, tucked into her chin with a scratchy blanket. She didn't remember how she'd gotten there.
She recalled walking down the hall, trying to get away from Draco. She remembered stumbling, remembered Draco leaning over her, slight concern evident just behind that passionless look in his eyes.
How had she gotten back to her cell? Someone must have come along and taken her back . . .
The door clanged open and Hermione jumped slightly despite herself.
Blaise Zabini peeked his head inside, and smiled when he saw her. It was a sharp, cruel smile; the kind of expression that overtook Draco's face right before he said something particularly cruel.
"Granger," he said with a curt nod, stepping into the cell and closing the door.
"Zabini," she answered coolly, raising an eyebrow and sitting up on the edge of her tiny bed. "I can't really think of someone I hate more than you at the moment. Voldemort, MacNair, and Malfoy are right up there, of course, but right now you pretty much top the list."
"Oh?" Zabini asked lightly. "It's an honor, I'll assure you, Granger, but that's a pretty bold thing to be saying in your position."
"That sounds almost like a threat," she observed with a light laugh. What is wrong with me? I'm not afraid of him at all, Hermione thought calmly. In fact, she was spoiling for a fight.
"I'll bet you're sore that I masqueraded as your best mate for two months without either you or that bastard Potter lifting an eyebrow. Weasley's in great condition, by the way . . . we've been keeping him in the dungeons for the past two months. He's so weak that he can barely walk . . ."
"Shut up," Hermione bit out sharply. Her chest tightened painfully, and she wasn't sure she could take much more. Blaise continued, however,
"I've heard they haven't fed him nearly anything, just scraps from their own meals. He won't even scream anymore when the Cruciatus is–"
"None of what you're saying is true," Hermione informed him rationally. "You're just trying to upset me."
"In denial, are you?" Blaise crowed. "And to top it all off, I'm engaged to that moron's little sister."
"Ginevra Weasley," he responded promptly. "She's agreed to marry me. Why shouldn't I have proposed to her? She's ambitious, beautiful, intelligent . . . her family's a bunch of riffraff, but they'll be dead once this war wraps up . . ."
"Do you think she'd agree to that?" Hermione choked out. "Killing her entire family?"
"It seems you're a bit behind the times, love. She already has."
He took a moment to revel in Hermione's shocked look.
"She was smart, really. She knows the only way to get out of being killed with them is to marry me. Don't you get it? She jumped onboard just before the ship took off, and it was the best decision she's ever made. In marrying me, she saves herself."
Hermione quickly masked her upset, trying to tell herself it wasn't true. "What are you here for?"
"Touchy, touchy," Blaise sneered. "What, I can't come and visit the resident Gryffindor golden girl now and then? I merely wanted to see how you liked your new position."
He smiled, dark hair and dark eyes beady in the light.
Hermione remained stonily silent.
"No answer?" he asked coyly.
"How about I give you an answer when I get out of here and you're in Azkaban," Hermione dead-panned emotionlessly.
"Azkaban doesn't exist anymore, Granger," Blaise informed her patiently. "You know, I honestly don't think you understand the implications of this war. Shall I give you a little briefing?"
Anger and something else bubbled up within Hermione. Panic? The edges of her self-control began to fray.
"Ever since Draco gave Voldemort the sword, there has been chaos in the streets. Muggle London is no more, Granger. Blasted to smithereens by Voldemort's power. The only places left to be conquered are Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons . . . but they're too weak by themselves to hold out for much longer. Mudbloods everywhere are being taken as slaves. Insurgents are killed on the spot. Muggles are dying by the thousands. Where are your parents, Granger? Huh? Do you think Voldemort killed them outright or did he send Death Eaters to torture them slowly merely because they were your parents?"
Something hot was happening to Hermione's stomach. It was the sharp ring of truth in Blaise's voice that did it. The Slytherin wasn't lying. Then the realization hit her like a thousand tons of bricks. Harry wasn't going to rescue her. He had a full fledged war on his hands. It was selfish to think otherwise. She would be stuck here either until Voldemort was defeated or forever. The second thought unbalanced her.
"Hermione Granger . . ." he announced in mocking reverence. "You were once the bravest, brightest, most outstanding student in the school. You were going places. You could have been famous, even. Now look where you are. Rotting in a cell no bigger than your closet. This is what you deserve, and this is where you'll stay. Want to know the reason? Because you're a Mudblood."
"You're blind," she said sadly, shaking her head.
"Then we're all blind," Blaise answered reasonably.
"How many people?" Hermione asked him softly. "How many lives will it take? It's human nature, I suppose, to divide ourselves into groups like this. Black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Mudblood and Pureblood, anything, just God forbid we're all the same. How many people, Zabini? Give me a number."
"But you've hit the nail on the head, Granger," Zabini said with a small smile. "Prejudice. It's human nature. It's never going to go away. All that matters now is whether we come out on the top or the bottom."
"You're unbelievably think-headed," she said dangerously, anger and frustration threatening to bring her to tears.
"Denial," Blaise replied simply. "You're in denial. I'm sorry you're a slave forever. I'm sorry you won't live to see fifty with the way they'll treat you here. I'm sorry that any Pureblood male could waltz in here and have his way with you. And you know what the worst part is? I'm not sorry. About any of it. All you're ever going to be is McNair's little concubine, and I'm not sorry about that either. You sort of deserve it, Granger."
She didn't know where the tears came from. Anger and disgust and frustration poured down her cheeks in the form of heat.
"What's wrong with you?" Hermione sobbed. "What is wrong with you?"
"It's you that's got something wrong, Granger," he said, leaning closer. "You're crazy. Everyone knows that Mudbloods are scum. You're the only one," he whispered. "The only one."
And her world crumbled.
Her parents might be dead, or worse. Harry wasn't going to save her. London was in ruins. Despair clutched at her and tore her apart before she realized that Blaise meant to do exactly this; she had fallen soundlessly into his trap.
Next thing she knew the door clanged and someone yelled and words fell like pockmarks on the stone walls.
" . . . Hey! Malfoy, I was just talking, I didn't . . ."
"Get out of here, Blaise."
Draco shut the door and suddenly the two of them were alone.
The two of them were alone and Hermione couldn't stop crying. Her mind flashed to that night on the tower. That was the last time she'd cried in front of him. I won't be weak, she had promised. Not in front of Draco. Not ever again.
He was calm and composed in the dim light, and crossed the room to stand in front of her.
"What did he do?"
No answer. Just tears, thoughts of a life wasted in slavery. Why couldn't she stop?
"Are you hurt?"
No concern in his voice. Detachment.
"God, you're the last person I need right now," she growled at last, through her tears. "Just get out of here, Draco. I'm fine. I'm okay."
"Um . . . you're not," he pointed out softly.
"You're so unbelievably arrogant. Now you know my feelings better than me as well? That's rich. Get out of here, Draco. Get out!"
"Wow. You're a bitch," Draco intoned severely. "You always have been."
Hermione stood up in exasperation and shoved him toward the doorway. "Get out! Do you want to fight with me? Do you seriously want to argue with me right now?"
"Yes!" Draco answered. "Yeah, I do. I'm tired of your aversion to talking to me, Granger."
"I just . . . just got done with that asshole out there and now I have to deal with you, too?"
"Tough luck, suck it up," he drawled wearily. "I have no pity for you right now. You're acting incredibly immature."
Hermione's mouth moved soundlessly.
"Now why don't we start with the fact," Draco continued calmly, "that I've apologized to you– profusely– for that night! What the hell else do you expect me to do? I can't take it back, Granger, okay? I can't!"
"I want you to get out of my life," Hermione answered ruthlessly. "Forever."
Draco laughed. "No you don't! I know that and you know that, Granger. You're so fucking transparent sometimes."
"Well you're not exactly the perfect guy, if you know what I mean," Hermione sneered viciously. "Why would I want a boyfriend who smacks me around and deliberately hurts me and never lifts a finger to protect me?"
"It's not as if you're the perfect girl, either," Draco responded hotly. "You're a pain in the ass, Granger! You're so goddamn anal sometimes that it kills me!"
"Why would I want to be with a compulsive liar?" she retorted. She stuck her hand out and imitated him scornfully. "Trust me. I won't drop you. I'll be there when you need me . . . I'll keep you safe."
Draco did not mention the fact that he'd come to her rescue numerous times, even if she didn't realize it.
"Oh yeah, Granger?" Draco responded with a mirthless laugh. "Well where the hell were you when I needed you?"
Hermione responded by whirling around to face the wall and muffling a sob. He took hold of her wrist and turned her back around to face him.
"I don't think you get it," he said dangerously. "You've sobbed your eyes out a million times, I've comforted you a million times, I've apologized to you a million times. You never once took into account how badly you hurt me, you never once apologized for how you treated me. I'm not being unreasonable on this one, Granger. It's you. You don't think I have feelings? That night when I tried to apologize to you, that was one of the worst nights of my life. It killed me to hear you say you'd never cared about me. It killed me to realize you hadn't meant that kiss. Okay? You're not the only one that got hurt."
"You deserved it!" she exclaimed hotly, voice rising.
"Maybe I did, but that didn't make it any easier to take!"
"Well you should have thought about that before you dumped me, Draco! You're an imbecile!"
"I did what I did for a calculated reason. You did it just to be cruel. Stop twisting my words around, Granger!"
"WILL YOU STOP," Hermione screamed suddenly, "CALLING ME GRANGER!"
She stood there, teeth chattering, tears streaming down her face, and Draco stared at her, mouth wide open. He'd never seen her more livid.
He realized they had been yelling at the top of their lungs for the past few minutes, and backed away from her, all the way to the wall. He leaned his head on his arm, raking a hand through his hair.
For weeks, she'd been calling him Draco. And yet he still called her by her surname, in denial about how close they really were.
"Look. Hermione," he said heavily, and the word felt odd in his mouth. He turned to face her, arms crossed. When he spoke, it was soft. "I'm gonna stop this right now. You and me, we're both just too stubborn for our own good. I tried to hurt you, you tried to hurt me, I tried to hurt you worse, and so on. Can't you see how screwed up this is? We just keep trying to hurt one another worse and worse and someday . . . someday it's gonna get one of us killed, or hurt permanently. I don't want to cause you any more pain. That was never my intention. So I'm just going to stop. Okay . . . Hermione? I'm sorry for everything. I never meant for it to go this far."
She could only stare at him, shell shocked. Had he actually just been mature? Taken a step forward instead of a step back? Was that even possible?
She took a deep breath. When she spoke, her voice was raw from screaming. "I'm, uh . . . I'm sorry too, Draco. I've been overreacting."
The tension between them subsided slightly.
"So what now?" Hermione asked, sniffing away the last of her tears. "You go get married, own the manor, let me go, and pretend I never existed?"
"That's one option," Draco intoned. "That's the morally correct option. But I won't try to hide it. I can't . . . imagine living without you, I've told you that before. So the second option is that I could keep you here with me, forever. I own everything in this mansion, right? That includes you. Then I would have everything I wanted . . . a wife, a pureblood heir, the mansion, and you."
He looked at her coolly, and she simply looked back at him, too tired to conjure up shock or anger.
"But, see . . ." he continued, "the problem is, neither of those options will make you happy. So obviously neither of those options will work. You don't deserve all of this, Hermione. That's one thing I know. You don't deserve to be a housekeeper in my mansion forever. I couldn't stand it."
Her mind flashed back to a few days before, in the cell. You're not even my enemy anymore, he'd said. You're just a slave.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked him.
He raked a hand through his hair. "Look, Hermione . . . I'm really fucked up, okay? I think you should already know that," he commented with a derisive laugh. "I have no idea what I want. But I do know that when I don't see you, I go crazy. I don't even know what it is about you, but it's something I need. And you're right, I'm not the perfect guy . . . not even close. But there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. Maybe that could be enough."
She looked at him for a long time, and he tried not to hold his breath. Finally, she spoke. "Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it doesn't matter."
His face fell. He knew they'd gone back to square one. She continued speaking.
"It doesn't matter because I can't stay away from you. Haven't you noticed yet?"
His smile, for the first time in weeks, was genuine. "Yeah, I tend to get that a lot. You're in the same boat with every girl I've ever dated. You just can't stay away."
"That's right," she admitted shamelessly, with the tiniest smile.
"Come on. let's get you out of here."
He held out his hand. This time, she took it.
An ember crackled out of the hearth, and Ginny Weasley jumped back with a hiss as it seared her arm. She was sitting in the Gryffindor common room by herself, late one night.
She sucked in a breath and examined her wrist. A slight burn had developed, and she winced as she brushed a finger across it.
Suddenly a strong hand came from behind her, grasped her arm in a surprisingly gentle manner. She looked up, wide eyed, to find Harry standing above her.
She tried to jerk her arm away, but he made a slight shushing sound and shook his head. He pulled out his wand and touched it gently to her wrist, muttering a healing spell The pain faded away, and Ginny examined her wrist, fresh and pale. He was a good healer.
"Thanks," she said awkwardly. Harry only nodded, taking a seat next to her.
"I want you to tell me something, Gin," Harry said seriously, leaning forward to gaze into the fire and steepling his fingers. "Why him and not me? Give me one reason."
Ginny sighed and stood up. Made for the girl's dormitory. "Don't ask me that, Harry. I can't give you a straightforward answer."
"Don't go, Ginny."
His voice was so desperate that she stopped. "Is it because you think that when Voldemort wins the war, Blaise will be able to keep you safe? Is it because you have that little faith in me?"
She closed her eyes, counted to three. Get him away from you. That's all you have to do.
"I'm sure you know about Draco and Hermione," she intoned evenly. "Well, Harry, it's sort of like that. Blaise . . . he's so different from me that we're never bored. We do fight sometimes, but that's imperative, you know? Our relationship is dynamic. Me and you, we're too much alike. I could see it getting old really quickly."
"So you're saying you don't want to be with me because I'm too boring?" Harry asked her softly.
She hesitated, then nodded.
And suddenly Harry rounded on her, his eyes fiery and the set of his shoulders tense. She had seen him when he was angry, but he had never directed that anger at her.
He pushed her against the wall and stood away, holding her there with almost no effort at all.
"Is this what you want?" he asked in a voice she had never heard him use. Her eyes widened. "Do you want to be pushed against the wall? Do you want to be knocked around and controlled and ignored like the silly little girl he thinks you are? Do you want to be over your head, alone with him in a place where . . ." his voice cracked at this part, "I can't be there to protect you? If you want a dangerous and edgy and uncontrollable relationship, then go ahead, Ginny. Walk away. Because I can't give you what you want. I'm no Draco Malfoy. I'm not going to insult you and belittle you and lie to you like you so obviously wish I would. Walk away. Go to Blaise. Because all I'm going to do is treat you right," his voice was rising steadily, "all I'm going to do is give you everything I have and cherish you forever and wipe away your tears when you cry and hold you close when you're scared, boring stuff like that. So do it! Walk away, and I'll never come after you again."
Ginny gasped as he released her, unaware that she had been holding her breath. Harry had never gotten angry at her . . . in fact, she hadn't even thought him capable. Now, looking back at how many times she'd been rude, cold, and flippant to him, she was surprised this outburst hadn't come sooner. He had smiled and let it go so many times.
Walk away, and I'll never come after you again.
This is what you need, she told herself. This is your break.
But what he had said made her weak, made her want to fall into his arms and cry and confess everything.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said finally. "I'm so sorry."
She pulled him into a hug and he was tense at first, wary. Then his resolve melted and he relaxed, crushing her against him as she buried her face in his chest. She needed him so much. They needed each other, warmth in the frigid war crashing down around them.
They remained like that for only five seconds, but it was the warmest, safest five seconds she had experienced in a long time. For five seconds, nothing could hurt her.
"I'm sorry," she breathed again, pulling away. "I'm so sorry for what I'm about to say."
She looked at him steadily, and saw something in his face shatter, something important. "Don't say it," he begged. "Please don't say it. I won't be able to take it if you do."
She'd never been more sorry in her life. Because she could tell he was serious. She took and breath and said, "The invincible Harry Potter should not take the words of a sixteen year-old girl so seriously. Nothing can break you."
His eyes pierced her like broken glass. "Now it can."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Don't come back here. I'm serious."
She paused, taken aback. "What? Are you telling me to get out of my own common room?"
"You heard what I said," Harry told her softly. "You don't belong here anymore. Hurts to say, but it's true. Get out."
He didn't even raise his voice, but Harry had a command about him that brooked no argument.
Ginny nodded once, and headed up the stairs without a word. She wondered if she'd be able to survive seeing him again. Doubtful, very doubtful.
So she left Hogwarts for good.
Twilight, hanging onto the day by a thread.
Harry Potter stood at the window of his dormitory and gazed out at the late autumn evening.
He tilted his head down, and dark hair obscured his face. Green eyes were hollow, empty, might as well have been staring at a blank wall for all the recognition within them.
There was nothing left for him at Hogwarts. Hermione and Ron were gone, captured in his arch nemesis's manor. Ginny had gone over to Voldemort's side, and he had come to the realization that he had no one.
No Sirius, no Hermione, no Ron, no Ginny, no Draco, even Lupin had up and left. He didn't know where the Weasleys were; they had probably gone into hiding. And Dumbledore? Dumbledore was a mentor, a teacher, but never a comrade. Dumbledore was using him, to some extent, just as everyone was trying to use him. He was a tool, forged to save the world.
But what it came down to was that there was no world worth saving. He had sacrificed everything he had in the fight against Voldemort. Now he realized that he had been wrong, off base, deluded.
Because now it didn't matter.
There had always been a burning flame within him; there had always been a drive, a passion, a knowing that he would one day have to kill Lord Voldemort. He would one day have to risk his life to save the world.
But whatever ambition, whatever flame he had once possessed, it had been spent completely.
All his life, he'd been a hero, and now he realized that Draco was right.
Stop acting like a hero, Potter . . . you're just a person.
He was not inhuman, as they all believed – not perfect, not unflawed. And he needed friends. But he could relate to no one. Everyone put him on a pedestal, untouchable. He was not a comrade or a friend to his classmates. He was a legend. One did not joke with a legend; one did not laugh in the presence of a legend.
His will to fight had gone out of him.
Movement behind him. Harry had his wand out and the intruder cornered so fast that he had only been a blur. He knew how to fight, defend, kill. He had been born for it.
"Harry," the boy spluttered weakly. In the half darkness he recognized Neville Longbottom, pressed back against the wall, eyes wide.
Harry lowered his wand. "Scram, Neville."
"What's wrong with you?" Neville asked fearfully. "You're not acting right."
Harry turned back to the window soundlessly.
"I heard you locked yourself up in your dormitory . . . wanted to talk to you anyway," Neville said apprehensively. "You seem a little on edge. I know it must be hard, without Ron and . . ."
"Did Dumbledore put you up to this?" Harry asked sharply. "Did he?"
Neville looked surprised. "No!"
Harry sighed. "Look, Neville. I'm done."
"Done with what?"
"With all of this shit. With being a legend, a hero. I can't do it."
"What? What do you mean?" Neville asked, confused.
"I mean let Voldemort win, let the killing stop, let the world burn. I don't care anymore. Half the people in this world deserve what's coming anyway."
Neville looked aghast. "Harry, you don't mean that. You can't."
"I wish I didn't. But you don't get it, Neville. I'm not this hero, I'm not what everyone thinks I am. Not a killer like I was born to be."
"But you're Harry Potter!" Neville squeaked indignantly, and Harry rounded on him.
"People use that name like it's going to banish away the evil! Harry Potter is not some spell. It's just a name, Neville. Just my name."
"But," Neville protested shakily, "you're people's only hope, you're what they rely on."
"How can I be your hope if I'm hopeless? Neville, look, I'm sorry to be rude, but you've got to leave."
Neville's face changed quickly. He had looked helpless and crestfallen, but now he appeared determined.
"I'm not just some little kid, Harry. I stopped being that squirt years ago, I'm not sure if you noticed. You and me, we're not as different as you think."
A shiver ran through Harry. Neville's words were oddly reminiscent of something Draco had once said.
You aren't a bigger hero or a better person than anyone else, Potter. The only difference between you and the rest of the population is that you've been given this burden . . .
A stab of guilt rocketed through him. Draco, who had made him lose considerable faith. Draco, who he had given a chance. Draco, who was ultimately correct.
"You said that half of the people in the world deserve this fate," Neville said stonily, "and that may be true, but what about the other half, Harry? Are you going to ignore them? Abandon them? Do they deserve to die because you've given up?"
He was silent.
"You could save them," Neville whispered. "You could save them and you're not even going to try? You're the only one. You know that."
"I can't do it alone," Harry admitted at last, rawly. "I need Hermione and Ron. I can't do it."
Neville looked remorseful. "We can't get to them. We don't have the means or the time, you know that. But you can do it without them because you have to."
And suddenly Harry realized what had happened. He had always been driven to kill Voldemort; he had always had ambition.
But Harry? Hermione had said once. Harry believes in redemption for the human race. He looks at a bad person and thinks, "You know what? This isn't how people really are. Somewhere there's something good in humans." Redemption for the individual and redemption for the whole. He believes that things can be better. He has to.
Harry had always had faith that humans were good. Then came Draco Malfoy, who had betrayed him, lied to him, broken Hermione's heart, and handed Voldemort the weapon that would bring about his victory.
He had, despite everything, believed in Draco. Believed that Draco could be better.
The Slytherin had shattered his faith in the goodness of humans completely. It was silly, really, that one boy had changed his entire outlook, but Draco had caused him to lose faith in the human race.
And when he had lost faith in the human race, he had ultimately lost faith in himself.
"What if there's no good in humans left to save?" Harry asked softly. "Hell, what if there's nothing good left in me?"
Neville was silent for a moment.
"There is something good left. Always will be some good in humans, always will be some evil in humans, and that's how it's gonna be forever, Harry. But you've got to fight for that good, however little it is, however obscure. For the hope that someday we're all going to be okay. For the hope that someday we're all going to be just a little bit more good than we are evil."
"I'll do it," Harry said disgustedly.
"I'll do what you all want me to do. Kill Voldemort. Not because I want to, not like it was before, but because I have to. Not because I think I can, but because there is no one else. I'll do it. I'll kill him without Ron and Hermione and I'll do it thoroughly and I won't hesitate. And I'll hate every goddamn second of it and the human race doesn't deserve it, but I'll do it. For the chance, like you said. For the someday."
He turned away from the window because the lights below had winked out one by one. It wasn't as if the path ahead of him was any brighter.